Welcome to WDYT Thursday, a periodic post in which I pick a discussion topic and ask you what you think.
I've recently read a couple of (few?) YA books that reminded me a lot of other books. And in thinking about that, I've realized that my opinions about similarities in books are ... complicated. Here are some thoughts:
Some say that there are no original ideas left out there. That everything is a remix.
An author says he feels like another author stole the plot of his book. Fifty Shades of Grey started out as Twilight fan fic. Buzzfeed accuses Hunger Games of startling similarities to Battle Royale. An award-winning 17 year-old author is accused of plagiarism and claims there's no originality, only authenticity.
I must confess: I see this as a (somewhat) persuasive argument. There are ideas, and then there is execution. Ten authors could write a book about an orphaned boy who has to battle the man who murdered his parents and we'd get ten completely different books.
I do believe that books can use the same premise and still feel completely different. Look at the Cinderella trope, which might be one of the most tired trope in the history of tropes. Many YA authors have taken that set-up and spun it into stories that feel completely different.
However, lately when I'm reading YA I've been having:
Meaning that I'm reading a new book and start to feel a weird sense of déjà vu. The feeling that I'm reading something that I've read before. Maybe that's because I read so much YA, but I'm not sure that's the reason. It does seem to me like there are a lot of readalike books lately.
While I'm okay with similarities of premise or plot, what I think should be avoided is what I'll call the Single White Female technique:
Have you seen that movie? It's a classic thriller from the 90s. It's about these two girls who are roommates, and one girl starts studying everything the other girl does and tries to become exactly like her. So creepy! (Also note the identical 90s bowl cuts. Yes, your mom was right: bad things happen when you copy what your friends are doing.)
I think an author can go wrong in thinking they can study popular YA and make their book just like those blockbuster books. I understand the desire to study what works, and I think it's a great idea to try to analyze what makes a book successful. But what makes one book a hit rather than a miss can be a mysterious blend of timing and luck. It can also be something that's more elusive: a romantic couple with crazy-good chemistry, an irresistibly witty writing style, or some kind of mysterious secret sauce that can't easily be replicated.
The bottom line for me is too much similarity gets boring. Yes, everything may be a remix, but a talented writer can take the stalest idea on the planet and make it fresh and new again. So bring on the tropes, but remix them with creativity and heart.
What do you think about books with similarities? Hate or love or don't care? Maybe it depends on the trope, because some of them I'm crazy about...
There's nothing like a book taking on some overused tropes and making them work anew and making them feel fresh!ReplyDelete
But it's also very true that it's quite a disappointment when you read a book and you feel like you know how everything is gonna play out and it simply reads like "one more book dealing with this and that".
I agree -- predictability can ruin it for me!Delete
I think a lot of YA books have the same ideas as well, but like you said if they can really write, I can read the same thing over and over and get something different out of each one. I don't mind as long as it's written well. I think a good author can make me forget the similarities and enjoy their books.ReplyDelete
I do think there's a way to make the tropes work!Delete
I don't mind if books are similar or the same idea as long as written well and have their own spin on it. If it's pretty much the same thing though that's no fun.ReplyDelete
I do have some YA things I'm getting tired of. Maybe that's a new post...Delete
I also think to some extent there is nothing new under the sun. There are going to be similarities in genres esp a niche like YA, or any other. I agree though, remix with heart and creativity. It doesn't cover taking a whole page from another author though in my opinionReplyDelete
I still like to hope there are new ideas out there!Delete
Yes, I think everything has been done before, but yes, it's the execution that makes all the difference. I did go through a funk reading YA as a result of coming across the same story over and over again. I think it's wrong not to know what works - any author should know what his/her potential readership responds to - but to actually sit down and craft a story within those specific parameters... No, I wouldn't do that. I don't think that guarantees any degree of success. All that it achieves is sending people into reading funks :) The idea is: find a good story and tell it in your voice. Write it for the audience, but make it yours.ReplyDelete
That's a good point and I think why I get burned out on genres. Chick lit began to be all Bridget Jones remakes. Paranormal romances started to all seem Twilight-inspired. Most dystopians have Hunger Games or Divergent elements.Delete
I keep looking for something new and original but a lot of it seems to be the same old thing with a different angle or ~plot twist~.ReplyDelete
Usually when YA gets too repetitive for me, I venture out to historical romance or NA so that I don't 'get burnt out on my favorite genre!
Switching genres is a good idea. Of course, historical romance has its own tropes!Delete
I think being completely original in books right now is so hard. Usually everything remind some of something else, but it doesn't really bother as much. Unless it' super obvious and even certain scenes and character names are copied.ReplyDelete
I'm also really tired of everything being compared to Twilight/The Hunger Games/Fifty Shades/etc...
That's a good point. I think a lot of us hate the comparisons. And then books that aren't compared seem similar anyway...Delete
Having just read The Girl at Midnight, I think I can safely say that it's tough to find anything original nowadays. Though, I think Ms. Grey did her best to own it. I normally have no problem with a storyline that looks like a patchwork of quilt from different novels as long as there is something else other than what's been done before. In The Girl at Midnight's case, the legend of the Firebird was not a remix of the Russian folklore, which I am glad for. Anyway, right now, readers can't get enough of them so why not?ReplyDelete
I heard Girl of Midnight was Shadowhunters meets Grisha. I'm going to try it!Delete
Aaah, I feel there can be similarities between novels but it doesn't always mean the author borrowed the idea. The Hunger Games is one series/movie I love, although the resemblance to Battale Royale is too much. I guess, it's alright to be inspired but you should also give credit and have a more different plot. Great post! <3 Benish| Feminist ReflectionsReplyDelete
I think the accusations of "borrowing" or "stealing" are usually unfounded, though there have been a rare few occasions of outright plagiarism. Two people can have similar ideas!Delete
I definitely agree, Jen! It all really depends on the author's talent and how they can turn something typical into something fresh and fun. So what if all the books these days remind you of Twilight? The keyword there is *remind*. It's okay to find similarities as long as you find some new bits and pieces here and there as well. But I totally understand--especially with contemporaries. It's hard to find something in that genre that's unique, and sometimes the same storylines can get tiring, unless the author's writing is absolutely brilliant.ReplyDelete
For me, the trick is not copying the superficial things (i.e. clumsy heroine) and focus more on the underlying themes (forbidden romance, love = danger.) But that's just me!Delete
I feel like books now are kind of like movies and songs. definitely a lot of remake/retakes. But I don't really mind if the authors put a unique and fantastically done spin on it (like The Lunar Chronicles and all the fairy tales!).ReplyDelete
I'm reading two different NA series right now, both sports theme and I get them mixed together/feeling of deja vu all the time, haha. But thankfully they're both series I enjoy (:
Great discussion, Jen!
I get excited about remakes (though I've never read a YA Breakfast Club remake that really lives up to the original!)Delete
Aaaand this is the reason why we need more diversity instead of having the same white girl heroine. There could be ten books about the same orphan boy, but make that orphan boy black while trying to pursue his parent's killer, and you'd get an even more interesting story. Make that orphan boy gay and struggling with his sexuality while trying to pursue his parent's killer and you'd get an even more interesting story than the same white hero/heroine we've been getting. Sigh, what I would give to read a dystopian story set in the Philippines or Japan or heck Egypt. It'd be more interesting than the overused ones we keep getting.ReplyDelete
Faye at The Social Potato
That is a fantastic point!!Delete
Man, it's like Tuesday all over again for Sammy Winchester! Ha! Anyway, I do not like similar books! Take Vampire Academy and JLA's Half-Blood, one was vampires and the other Greek mythology. I read half-blood after reading VA, and there were just so many similarities I couldn't even enjoy Half-Blood even after hearing so many good things about it. I like different. Different is good :)ReplyDelete